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Lawmaker aims to extend time limit on child sex abuse suits

January 2, 2019

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — A state lawmaker will try to extend the time limit for filing child sex abuse lawsuits in Rhode Island, with support from the House speaker.

Democratic Rep. Carol Hagan McEntee said Wednesday that she’ll introduce a bill next week to extend the limit for filing civil suits to 35 years, from seven years.

“It gives people time to come to grips with what happened to them and muster the strength to file a lawsuit,” she said. “Seven years is not long enough.”

Democrat Nicholas Mattiello announced Tuesday after he was re-elected House speaker that he’ll work with McEntee on her proposal.

“I hope and expect that we will pass legislation this year that will benefit the victims of sexual assault,” Mattiello said in a statement Wednesday. “I have had discussions with Rep. McEntee in the off-session and we have agreed to work together to achieve a resolution to this important issue.”

Mattiello said he’ll look closely at the approach used in Massachusetts, which has a 35-year limit for civil actions.

McEntee proposed eliminating the statute of limitations altogether last year for child sex abuse civil suits. Her sister, in testifying for that bill, said she was abused by a priest as a child.

The Catholic Diocese of Providence said then that any change should apply only to cases taking place after the new law is passed, and not retroactively. McEntee said she won’t agree to that.

The Rev. Bernard Healey said Wednesday that the RI Catholic Conference looks forward to reviewing any legislation that is filed this year, in the hopes that it “offers a sound public policy that is fair and just and truly serves the common good.” The conference advocates for the church’s public policy positions.

McEntee said it’s time for Rhode Island to act, given the number of abuse cases coming to light nationwide. She mentioned a grand jury report in Pennsylvania that revealed seven decades of abuse and cover-up in six dioceses.

McEntee was one of 21 Democratic lawmakers who didn’t back Mattiello for speaker at a party caucus meeting in November, in part due to frustration that her bill to repeal the statute of limitations stalled.

She broke with that group and voted for Mattiello on Tuesday. McEntee said she worked out her differences with the speaker, and she has high hopes for her bill, and for proposals to address pay equity, sexual harassment and other issues that were not resolved last year. McEntee, a lawyer, represents a district that includes parts of South Kingstown and Narragansett.

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